D is for Dining in Italy

There is quite an art to dining in Italy. And I mean dining in the formal sense, so not just a meal that you quickly prepare and eat after a long day at work,  but an actual sit-down, take-your-time dinner, for celebratory reasons or when dining out with friends. In Italy it’s not just starter, main, and dessert. No no, it’s far more elaborate than that.

  1. Aperitivo – Usually a drink such as Prosecco or Spumante. At times, it can be accompanied by small bites, such as nuts or olives.
  2. Antipasto – In general, these are cold dishes, such as charcuterie (prosciutto, mortadella, bresaola, etc.). Typical antipasti are Bruschetta, Panzanella and Insalata Caprese.
    Note: antipasto is the single, and antipasti the plural form).

  3. Primo – The actual first course is a hot dish, without meat. Think of Risotto, or Pasta.
  4. Secondo – The “main” course, includes meat or fish. The recipes are mostly simple, also depending on what preceded the course. For instance, if the primo was rich in cream, the secondo will be a lot less heavy.

    penne with bacon and peas
    Penne with Bacon and Peas
  5. Contorno – Focuses on vegetables, although not as a salad. Served in a seperate dish, never together with the meat or fish from the secondo. It is a course to basically celebrate the quality of the vegetables, and can be hot or cold.
  6. Insalata – This  course could be omitted, depending on whether leavy greens were used in the contorno, otherwise a fresh salad could be served.
  7. Formaggi e frutta – Just like the insalata, this course is not always included in the meal. It is, as the name already points out, a course to serve some of Italy’s cheeses, along with seasonal fruits.

  8. Dolce – The dessert. Think of recipes such as Tiramisu or Zabaglione(coming later this month!).
  9. Caffè – To end the meal, Italians drink espresso. So definitely no cappuccino!
  10. Digestivo – Can be served alongside the caffè. Liquors like grappa and limoncello (also coming this month!). Great cookies that are even more perfect when dipped in a digestivo, are Biscotti!

    Hazelnut Biscotti

Like all traditional menus, there is a clear build up and break down of the recipes. Starting with cold food, you will slowly get more heavier foods, and warmer foods (which generally make you feel fuller than the cold ones). After the main course, or the secondo in the case of Italians, the heaviness of the dishes decreases, until you end with the digestivo, which aims to ease the digestion of the previous courses.

Now you know what to make when you’re in the mood for Italian (and when are we not, am I right?), and what the structure of your next Italian dinner could be!
For the ultimate dining experience, I would advise you to listen to the soothing voice of Paolo Conte…

This post is part of the A-Z Challengewhich lasts the whole month of April. For more posts on Italian Cuisine, click here.


10 Comments Add yours

  1. marissoule says:

    My Northern Italian grandparents lived near us most of my life and even though we didn’t always eat with them, there were many meals that included almost all of the courses you mentioned here. I learned that eating was a social event, to take my time and enjoy my food. This is just the opposite of my husband, who grew up in a large family where eat fast was the only way to insure you got enough to eat. As a result, my husband is always finished with a meal long before I am. If we’re dining out, I usually end up taking half of my dinner home in a box.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. basilandoil says:

      Funny how families have their own traditions or manners concerning food. In my family, (just my parents, older brother and sister), it was a combination of what you’ve mentioned. Some years ago I had to eat real quick because otherwise it would be eaten by the rest. Now, however, our dinners can last for up to three hours, just because we’re enjoying the food and each other’s company. Thanks for the comment! Very interesting 🙂


  2. Sabina says:

    Ten courses, holy moly. I knew about the antipasti, primi, secondi, dolce, & caffe from traveling in Italy but I didn’t realize that there was even MORE. I love that their meals are slow and long even for no particular occasion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. basilandoil says:

      I know right, how amazing is that? I love that too, just take the time to relax, enjoy the food and people around you!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s